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Trip Report Chicago ... a little work and a lot of fun

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Chicago is one of my favorite cities so I was very happy to learn that one of my regular conferences was going to be held in the city...and in September.
Hotels: The conference started on 9/11 and was held at the Westin - Michigan Ave. Great location but the hotel was pretty standard. You get free wireless if you belong to their club and because my preferred room wasn't ready (and I checked in at 7 pm), they also gave me free bottled water. My view was of a parking garage, but I did really like the bathroom...great shower and tub, toiletries and lots of counter space. The most exciting thing at the hotel was that the Detroit Tigers were staying there and I rode down in the elevator with Prince Fielder. After the conference ended, I moved one block north to the Millennium Knickerbocker (where I was able to get a rate that was $100 less/night than the Westin).
The Knickerbocker was exactly as pictured on their website. The room was very very small, and the king size bed was really most of the room. Even though my room was very close to the elevator (and initially gave me concern), with the fan on, I couldn't hear a thing. Extra points to the hotel for letting me check in very early at 9:30!
Dining: It wasn't a terribly exciting trip, food wise, but there were some highlights, including dinner at the Farmhouse Tavern, which I loved. Dinner was great (although the walk to the restaurant was a bit longer than I thought it would be), especially the heirloom tomato salad appetizer (which I would have had a second order for dessert if I wasn't full). The Corner Bakery was my go to place for breakfast. Sweet treats came from Papa Beard, the master of cream puffs, at 108 N. State Street. I happened to be there when they had happy hour (between 4-6) and it was buy one, get one free. The chocolate was the best..... Another snack stopped was at the Hendrickx Belgian Bread Center, on Walton Street, across the street from Bloomingdales. Everything there looked amazing, but I did go with the macaroons (lemon and raspberry) and they were great.
Shopping: I always like to shop when I travel but the high tax in Chicago is a bit of a deterrant especially since we have many of the same stores in NJ and don't pay sales tax on clothing). That being said, I did find a few things to buy. I loved the Local Charm jewelry store (locations by Papa Beard and also in the Water Tower), which has a nice selection of unique, reasonably priced jewelry. If you buy something in one store, they give you a coupon for 20% off purchases in the other store (which was a nice deal). In Macy's, I learned that they've broadened the frangos line to include cookies and these were souvenirs for my office staff (who gave rave reviews of the chocolate and chocolate/caramel cookies).
Activities: On this trip, I had my first adventure in food tours, with a Near North Tour through Chicago Food Planet tours. Our tour guide was Kent and he was knowledgeable and entertaining, and has been doing this for a couple years. There was a nice variety of stops and the tour started with 1/2 reuben at a deli and ended with a pierogi and macaroons, about 1.5 miles and 3 hours later. It was a beautiful fall day so that made the experience all the better. Favorite new shops were Tea Gschwendner and the Fudge Pot, and I'll definitely stop at both on my next trip. You can get a 10% discount by entering yelp2012 when purchasing the tickets.
My second adventure was a return trip to the National Museum of Mexican Art, primarily to see their new Day of the Dead exhibit, which had just opened. The exhibit was great, but their permanent exhibit (which is a history of Mexico, up to the present day) featured beautiful and unique artwork, including a huge beaded mural and other impressive crafts. The museum is free and also has a great gift shop. In line with the Day of the Dead exhibit, they had freshly made sugar skulls, which were very cute and a great gift for the kids.
Getting to the museum is not as easy as to the Art Institute or the Field, but it's well worth the trip, and can be done, relatively easily, on the subway. I received amazingly bad directions from the CTA employees but here are the correct directions: take the pink line, west to 18th. Exit the station and turn right onto 18th street, go one block and turn left, and then right onto 19th street. It's a long block and on your right.
And, I was happy to discover the Garretts Popcorn shop in the airport so I was able to take one more treat home with me!

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